Indeed, the meeting of the General Affairs Council (GAC) was the last of its kind before the Commission's presentation of its proposal for the next European financial period, the so-called Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), traditionally the most complex and important negotiation as it sets Europe's overall political priorities for the following years.
This time round, the context is even more complex than in the past due to two new elements: Brexit on the one hand (the departure of Britain, a major contributor to the EU budget, means a substantial loss of resources for future EU budgets) and the emergence of new responsibilities for the EU to fund, notably migration and defence.
In this context, it was crucial for me to stress to ministers from every Member State that cohesion policy and Europe genuinely are two sides of the same coin, that weakening one can only weaken the other. It was equally crucial to reiterate my absolute conviction that Europe, Member States, their cities and regions, and their citizens need a cohesion policy for all regions, not just for the poorer.
Indeed, wherever I travel in Europe, be it a richer or poorer region, local and regionalauthorities, as well as representatives from the private sector and civil society speak with one voice: "We need cohesion policy". Calls that have been formalised in countless official statements from European institutions and associations that represent them.
Finally, it was important to me to explain to Member States why I believe we need to add new indicators, beyond GNI, to calculate future national allocation of our funds. Purely economic indicators do not tell you the full story, are not enough. To assess effectively how much any given region needs cohesion policy funds, indicators linked to the quality of life must be included in the equation; such indicators being linked to education, access to public services and the environment to name but a few.
At the GAC meeting on 12 April, I was happy to hear representatives of member States broadly follow me along that line. Most of them have expressed their willingness to increase their national contributions to future EU budgets, to compensate for Britain's exit from Europe, and all of them are in favour of cohesion policy covering the whole of Europe.
The latter is welcome news; indeed I could not imagine tomorrow's cohesion policy altogether "disappearing" from half of Europe as this would mean the EU's visibility disappearing from half its Member States whilst splitting Europe in two in terms of EU funding.
A last point on the GAC meeting: I was happy to report to Member States on the progress achieved since we presented, last April and at their request, seven communication actions to increase cohesion policy's visibility. One year later, it is clear that the Cohesion Alliance that I called for has been successful beyond my hopes: some 5,000 signatories from cities and regions of course, but also from the health, education, business, trade unions sectors, not to mention individual national and European MPs. I also called on Member States to step up their efforts, at national level, to raise the profile of cohesion policy as the Commission cannot reach that goal by itself.
As I was in Luxembourg, I took the opportunity to meet its Secretary of State for sustainable development Camille Gira, to discuss the Grand-Duchy's position on the future cohesion policy; here again, I was pleased to hear that we shared views on most issues.
Finally, Camille Gira and I visited ESPON, a territorial cooperation programme financed by both the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and Member States. In a nutshell, it provides data, facts and studies to help local and regional authorities make and implement their decisions equipped with the best possible, most accurate and up to date information. I am a big fan of ESPON's work, and I wish it and its staff more success in future, beyond the current financial period.